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Title: The paradox of self-annihilating expression : representations of ontological instability in the drama of Samuel Beckett
Author: Lawley, Paul Anthony
ISNI:       0000 0001 3605 8747
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 1978
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One of the central critical problems about Beckett - how can we praise without feeling uneasy the work of an artist for whom "to be an artist is to fail"? - parallels the creative predicament of a writer whose "art of failure" can only exist in an inherently expressive medium. How can an art which is anti-art remain true to itself? Is a truly self-annihilating expression possible? Two perspectives on the problem are opened. The first is theoretical: a consideration of the Duthuit Dialogues confirms that Beckett refuses to countenance an art which survives by making artistic failure itself the occasion of artistic creation. Rather he "dreams" of a genuine "art of failure": without occasion, in-expressive and indefinable. The second perspective (itself suggested by Beckett's critical tendency in the Duthuit Dialogues) is literary-historical: pertinent Romantic, nineteenth-century and Modernist attitudes towards artistic failure are outlined and briefly considered. Such a consideration serves both to define the particular (and unique) nature of Beckett's response to what may be seen as a traditional Romantic and Modernist problem, and to confirm the essentially ontological nature of what Beckett sees as the creative "obligation". (Failure to create as failure to be.) The Beckettian creative predicament is thus considered next in terms of individual identity, by way of the recurring motif of the "imperfect birth", and the paradoxical quality of Beckett's response to his creative problem is most clearly seen in the theatre, where he needs to represent degrees of ontological absence in what has been seen as the medium of "presence". Studies of the individual plays show that Beckett's method is to exploit the essence of theatre, which is playing, so as to suggest that the players are never really present, only playing, because obliged to play, over the void of (their own) identity. In order to render the creative-ontological situation of the imperfectly born subject, Beckett seeks to produce, both in the text and the stage-picture and by a precise counterpointing of the two elements, the effect of parody presence. Examination of the plays in chronological order illustrates a development towards abstraction and an increasing emphasis on shape and pattern. The central character becomes more and more obviously a creator and (by the same token) is revealed more and more clearly by the effect of parody presence as a created being, though imperfectly created. Thus theatrical presence is undermined and the Beckett play enacts its own self-annihilation.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PR English literature